One of the most underestimated elements of a board game is the art that graces the cover of the box and insert materials. The visual impact of a game can make or break it, but often the artists that contribute to a game’s success go virtually unnoticed and unappreciated.

Gary Baseman’s Cranium.
One exception is the American artist Gary Baseman who illustrated the colourful board and cards for the best-selling game Cranium. Baseman also designed its four wacky characters: Star Performer, Creative Cat, Data Head and Word Worm. Influenced by cartoon imagery of the 1930s and 40s, Baseman has an instantly recognizable and compelling style. Entertainment Weekly listed him as one of the 100 most creative people in entertainment today, not just because he’s a successful board game designer, but because he’s also a “Pervasive” (Baseman’s description of his style) artist, character/toy designer, TV/movie producer, animator and performance artist, who strives to blur boundaries between high and low art.

Claus Stephan and Martin Hoffman.
But the USA is not the only country with talented game artists. German graphic designer Claus Stephan, who illustrated Carcassonne, has also collaborated on a wide range of well-known games such as Cartegena, Amazonas, Dominion: Intrigue and Keltis. Stephan also collaborated with Martin Hoffman and Mirko Suzuki to create Race for the Galaxy’s awesome graphics, while Stephan and Hoffman also teamed up for three RFTG expansions:  The Gathering Storm (2008), Rebel vs Imperium (2009) and The Brink of War (2010). The Golden City graphics are another of their collaborative efforts.

Galactic disco and aliens in a hot tub.
Many gamers also claim it’s the artwork that enables them to fully understand and recognise a card, rather than its title. In fact friends of mine are so taken with the RFTG Galactic Trendsetters “galactic disco” card, that they mimic disco beats whenever they see it, and hum a few bars of Barry White at the sight of the Galactic Resort “aliens in a hot tub” card.  This adds an additional layer of fun and depth to the game play that wouldn’t be possible without the graphic artists input.

A picture’s worth a thousand words.
Even though most board game artists now design with pixels rather than paints or pencils, this doesn’t diminish the amazing work they do for little glory or reward. But how many people get so caught up in the game play that they don’t even notice the art? Sometimes I pause mid-play in awe at the artistry but usually I get so engrossed in the mechanics, I scarcely notice the graphics at all.  That’s probably because a picture really is worth a thousand words. As the images say so much about the cards’ purpose, we barely notice the subtle communication going on. Now that’s good illustration.